What turned me into a journaler?
I started journaling as a 15-year-old because my English teacher thought it was a good idea. I liked it because it felt to me like he was giving his endorsement for keeping a diary. That was not his intention; nevertheless, I started writing every day and I grew to love it. I wrote in a journal every day from the time I was 15 until I was 26, when my firstborn son turned one. That’s a long time to journal!
Journaling, as more than a mature diary
At some point (probably when I had three kids and was also trying to work a day job), my journaling got less frequent (read as almost nonexistent). The only time I wrote was when I was so distraught over life that I thought the only safe place to put my true emotions was my journal. Those journal entries were raw and dark and real! If my grandchildren and great grandchildren read those journals to get to know their grandmother, they may think I was a hot mess. Or, they may think that everyone has struggles in their lives and we all work through those times in different ways.
My parents are both gone now. Mom passed in 2001 and Dad in 2006. They wrote in journals every day for 40+ years. At the close of the day, they would sit in the living room and write in their journals as they watched the evening news and Johnny Carson, or whoever the late-night talk show host happened to be. When we were cleaning out the house, the journals became mine because my Dad said “You’re the writer in the family. You’ll do something with these.” For a while I did nothing with them, but eventually I pulled them out and started to explore. As I read through their journals I began to realize that this habit they developed of writing every day was much more than simply recording the daily weather and what they had for dinner. They were telling their stories – they were recalling their memories – they were talking about relationships, hardships, victories, joy, sadness, life. I had inherited a goldmine.
My turn to write – again
That was a rough time in my life and I began to wonder where my old ‘happy-go-lucky’, positive outlook self had gone. I felt like I had turned into a cynic – critical of everything and everyone. Ironically, I was working with the young women’s youth group in our church and noticed that my girls were also a little critical, skeptical, and spent too much time whining about what wasn’t wonderful in their lives.
Enter the gratitude journal!
Journaling Type #1 – Gratitude
Gratitude has been shown to be transformative. Of all the attributes one can develop, gratitude has the greatest impact on mental health. That’s what the research shows, and there is a ton of it. Google “gratitude books” and see how many titles come in!
My research is not scientific, but it is my real-life experience!
For eight years I wrote in my gratitude journal every single day. It became my practice right before going to sleep at night. Some days I wrote one bullet point and other days I wrote several pages. Not every day offers the same opportunities for being grateful, but every day does offer at least ONE opportunity. Here is how gratitude journaling made me a better person:
Focusing on gratitude right before sleep put me in a positive, appreciative frame of mind and I fell asleep more quickly because my mind was not spinning around problems and other negativities from my day.
I began to notice and be grateful for things that I had previously taken for granted. And, the things were not always THINGS! I began to be grateful for people, relationships, simple every day behaviors that had gone unnoticed.
Since I was noticing and writing about people and relationships some days, I began to share what I appreciated with them. That doesn’t happen often enough! I felt good and so did the person I offered appreciation to.
Knowing that at the end of the day I needed to write about something I was grateful for, opened my eyes all day long. Some days are not great, but I always managed to find at least one thing I could give thanks for.
They say that we see what we are looking for and looking for something that makes us grateful helps us see more of the good. I know that people who see the glass half full are much more pleasant to be around than those who see empty glasses. Even if you consider yourself a grateful person, this journaling practice will shift your focus!
Journaling Type #2 – Who Was I Today?
The year I turned 45 was a rough one for me. Don’t ask me why! Many women struggle with 30 or 40. I was great with those, but 45 was a tough one. I will not share the extenuating factors that complicated that birthday, but it resulted in my spending some time with a counselor. At some point in our work together, I realized that I had been overly focused on the ‘to-do’ lists for most of my life. Overachiever syndrome! It was time for me to create a ‘to-be’ list. I knew that I could get stuff done, but who was I being while I was cranking through the tasks in my life? It was a simple journaling process that highlighted behaviors I wanted to change!
As I reviewed what I had accomplished during the day, I paused to consider how I showed up in various interactions. That step alone is beneficial because it forces us to notice that we don’t accomplish most things alone, and that a key part of getting the work done is how we work with the other people.
When I recalled an interaction that I wasn’t proud of, I made a note that I needed to reconnect with the individual (or sometimes it was a group) the next day and own up to my less than stellar behavior. People were blown away! I would apologize for being rude. I would apologize for having made a hasty decision without considering how it affected others. I would ask forgiveness for an insensitive comment. Do-overs became a part of my daily practice. By the way, sometimes I was a pretty good person at work, and it was on the home front that I needed to turn things around.
Relationships began to improve and change – because I was changing.
Over time, this became a habit that didn’t require journaling. I just began to do it in my head. I still do it in my head after almost every interaction, and the do-overs are much less frequent. However, it started with a process of pausing, reflecting and writing things down. Seeing what we do in black and white has more power than just keeping it in our mind’s eye.
Journaling Type #3 – How Do I Want to Show up Today?
Some of you may find it helpful to pair this type of journaling with Type #2. That journaling has you look back at the end of the day. This type of journaling helps you set an intention for the day ahead. Imagine waking up in the morning, and as you review your to-do list for the day, you jot a couple of notes about how you want to show up. Those attributes could be general, or they could be specific as you review the workload for the day.
Some people bring out my impatience more than others. When I see their names on my meeting list for the day, I write BE PATIENT on my list. It works!
When I am looking at looming deadlines, I tend to focus on the finish line and can show up as uncaring and distant. Often, I isolate myself – lock the door and put my head down to get work done. When I can see that kind of day on my list, I write REMEMBER OTHERS on my list. It reminds me to ask for help and check to see how others are doing.
I am a judger by nature – NOT proud of that fact, but it’s true. There are some things that I think I do better than most other people. When I am involved with others doing the same type of work as I (think training sessions or conferences), I can begin to compare and become overly critical of others – looking for everything that others are doing ‘wrong’. Even if I manage to keep my mouth shut and preserve the relationship, the critical thoughts can run wild in my head. That prevents me from learning! That is NOT OKAY! When I notice I will be in situations that bring out the critic in me, I write PRACTICE HUMBLE INQUIRY- LEARN on a post-it note and stick it in my notebook, or on my screen if using my phone/ table. That simple reminder helps me be open to learning from others.
Remember that I have been practicing these journaling habits for 15 years so while they may seem like A LOT right now, I promise they can become second nature for you. I feel as if I am in a continuous feedback loop.
Set an intention – go about the day – reflect.
Reset an intention – go about the day – reflect.
Continuous learning about the impact I am having on others has been incredibly helpful to my work (and personal) relationships!
Coaches are great for personal development, but not everyone can hire a coach. That’s okay — I think you can coach yourself by journaling consistently — at least a bit! Journaling is a very simple, inexpensive tool that can produce big results. You just need something to write on and write with, a growth mindset, and persistence! Here are the steps to make it work for you:
Keep it simple
If you are the digital type, then use a journaling app (there are many out there)
Write for your eyes only – no editing
Length doesn’t matter
Grammar doesn’t matter
Journal around a topic (I gave you 3 of them above and there are many more)
Write every day – even one sentence
If you’re struggling with journaling topics, download my free journaling prompts.